Measure key for recreation —

Measure key for recreation

By Paul Fish
OpEd: The SpokesmanReview

Whether it is fishing on our local lakes, hiking along the Selkirk Crest or paddling the Little Spokane River, our area offers unparalleled access to outdoor activities. A little-known federal program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is helping provide these opportunities. It works in much the same way that conservation futures work on a Spokane County level, but with federal funding for local projects.

In Eastern Washington, LWCF has had a huge impact on our great outdoors, protecting key parcels of federal land and many of the places we play on both sides of the state. LWCF funding was used near us for the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge, Fishtrap Lake and on the Kaniksu National Forest, as well as projects in the Alpine Lakes and all our national parks. LWCF has also helped to support healthy communities and active lifestyles through grants for hundreds of state and local parks, fishing access sites, ballfields and playgrounds across the state.

These investments maintain our heritage of clean air, water and wildlife habitat. As a small-business owner, I can attest that they are also good for our economy. Protecting our public lands drives tourism and supports local recreation-based businesses – and sustainable jobs across our state.

Whether your passion is hunting, fishing, camping, climbing, hiking, paddling, skiing, mountain biking, wildlife-viewing or some other outdoor activity, chances are you are doing it on our public lands. These places are not only a resource for residents but also lure visitors and boost the state’s economy. In fact, active outdoor recreation contributes $11.7 billion annually to the state’s economy, supporting 115,000 jobs and producing $8.5 billion annually in retail sales and services, accounting for 3.5 percent of the gross state product, according to the Outdoor Industry Foundation.

A key tool for protecting open space, LWCF was created by Congress in 1965 to meet America’s “outdoor recreation needs.” Congress intended that the fund receive $900 million annually – a portion of the $5 billion in royalties paid annually by oil and gas companies conducting offshore drilling. Unfortunately, the LWCF program has been chronically underfunded, receiving full funding only once in its history and reaching a recent low of $138 million in 2007.

Now is our chance to reverse course and instead preserve our land, water and recreation heritage for the next generations.

Our senators will have a lot of work on their plate when they return for the lame-duck session, including pending legislation to ensure full, dedicated funding of LWCF.

Such a provision has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives. Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have been strong supporters of LWCF project funding for Washington. Now they have the chance to support a measure to finally ensure ample and consistent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund – a wise investment in the future of Washington’s public lands and economy.

Paul Fish is the founder of Mountain Gear in Spokane.

Read the complete story at OpEd: The SpokesmanReview
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